First Sunday of Lent – A

Readings: Gen 2:7-9; 3:1-7; Ps 51:3-6; 12-14,17; Rom 5:12-19; Mt 4:1-11

One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.

  • The story is told of a pastor who was asked to conduct the funeral services of a fellow named Charlie who was known in the community as the lowest of the low in terms of his character and reputation. In fact the town was embarrassed that this fellow had called that place home.

    Charlie’s brother was rather wealthy fellow and offered the pastor $1000 to conduct the funeral with one stipulation – he had to refer to Charlie as a saint. The service began and the pastor stepped to the podium to begin the message. At the appropriate moment he said, “He was a low down, worthless, bum who cheated everyone he ever met and had the morals of an alley-cat; but compared to his brother, Charlie was a saint.”

    The stunned brother handed over the honorarium to the pastor who promptly slipped away. Perhaps the pastor succumbed to temptation a bit.

    Temptations do come to all of us also in our lives – in various disguises of course. They are part and parcel of our life. A temptation is a trick, a deception, a lie. It conceals the truth and presents falsehood to us as the truth. A temptation may even offer us something good but entices us to use it in a false and selfish way. No wonder that temptations come from the devil, called the father of lies.

  • In Southern Mexico lies the Cueva de Villa Luz, or Cave of the Lighted house. As you make your way to the cave you walk through a veritable paradise of tropical birds and lush rain forest. Underwater the cave is fed by 20 underground springs, beautiful watercourses which teem with tiny fish. The cave itself is home to spectacular rock formations and beautiful ponds. The environment is inviting. Yet accept the invitation and you’ll soon be dead. You see, the Cueva de Villa Luz is filled with poisonous gases.

    Temptation is just like this. It presents itself to us as something inviting, attractive, lifegiving. Yet in reality it’s poisonous and toxic. Source: information on the Cave obtained from National Geographic, May 2001.

  • In early 2001, some towns in India were stricken by a plague of monkeys. The monkeys were so numerous they would invade homes, bite people, and make off with food supplies. It was agreed the monkey’s would have to be caught and relocated. The people in these towns resorted to a traditional method for catching them. They gathered their old milk bottles, tied them to the ground, and then placed something sweet such as a lolly, nuts inside the bottle. Then when a monkey comes along and sees the sweet he places his hand inside the bottle, but with the sweet enclosed in his palm his fist is too big to get back out the bottle. The monkey will pull and push in an effort to get that sweet out, but he will not let it go, not even as his captors approach. And so the monkey is caught, literally with his hand in the lolly jar!

    How can we apply this story to our real life?

    Materialism. Although we know Jesus’ warning that materialism is destructive to our souls (and our world!) we find it very difficult to let go of possessions and the need to consume and possess them.

    Bitterness, forgiveness: unless we let go of our hurts and bitterness we will become trapped by the past, wanting to move forward yet unable to. Yet this is difficult, as we find it perversely attractive to hold onto our pain and bitterness.

    Sin, Temptation: often in life we are like the monkey, presented with an attractive offer, yet knowing that unless we let go of it, it will destroy us.

  • A well dressed man is all set to leave soon for some foreign land. He has in the baggage some contraband i.e., the goods forbidden to be taken out of the country without permission. They are banned by law. A person carrying such goods is punishable under law. So, this gentleman hides them so cleverly that no one can easily detect it. As he reaches the custom-barrier, his baggage is screened as a routine, but a watchful and trained eye of a custom officer detects it and orders his staff to open and check his baggage. They find a lot of currency of U.S. dollars in it. Soon, the currency is confiscated and the gentleman is arrested. Instead of making a lot of profit by smuggling he lands up in jail.

Everyday we come across such cases where people undertake many unlawful activities which hold promise of big money but are caught doing it. Temptation to get rich quickly is so great that they do not mind the risk. Their willpower becomes very weak at the thought of dreams of rewards. They are unable to keep off temptation. They can’t control themselves. Temptation is a fearful word. It shows the beginning of a series of unending evils. One wrong act leads to another wrong one. It is the ringing of an alarm bell, like the sudden cry of ‘Fire!’ under our window by night which should make us act at once. Most people do not mind this warning. They feel weak in the face of temptation. They have a weak will-power and do what they should not. They can’t get over the urge, only those who have enough inner strength manage to overcome this.

An iron will acts as a shield against temptation. Temptation may act with its full force but firm will does not give in before it. On the other hand, it overcomes the temptation within no time. A self- confident person faces difficulties smilingly and with courage. He never feels helpless and weak. He keeps acting the right way to win his goal. Nothing can push him backwards as long as he continues to believe in himself and his strength.

Faith in God is the best weapon to fight any temptation. As soon as a person starts acting with true ‘faith in God’ no evil idea can distract him. He keeps on the right path. Faith in God is very important and necessary for our life. Since God has given us everything, we should turn to him in our moments of weakness. We should pray and place our faith in God in our troubles and difficulties. This enables a person to remain cheerful and calm even when things go wrong in life.

God guides us through our conscience. If you obey the voice of your conscience, you’ll never fall prey to any temptation. No evil will weaken your hold on yourself. You’ll keep off any forbidden activity howsoever attractive the reward may be. Thus, it is very important to have strong willpower, self–confidence and faith in God to overcome temptations in life. You’ll feel as strong as a rock against the strong winds of temptations.

THE TEMPTATIONS OF OUR FIRST PARENTS:

It is no accident that the First Reading begins with one of the Genesis accounts of Adam and Eve. In the story of Adam and Eve we hear again about the perfect world God created for humans and how through a temptation, Adam established a pattern that led to sin and death. The Eden story was actually a drama woven of pretense and cover-up. Adam and Eve were the first to bite on a big lie: the denial that we as creatures of God are dependent on God. Enter the serpent, that cunning beast, that lord of lies, who taunted their obedience and reliance on God. Ah, the attraction of having no limits. To be God. To be self-sufficient, self-made. The pretense was attractive, desirable. The trick looked so wise.

William Shakespeare said, “’Tis one thing to be tempted, another thing to fall.”

British playwright Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist anything except temptation.”

The Apostle Paul said it this way: “For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” Romans 7:19

Temptation seems to be all around us. The giant of temptation seems to arrive at all times of the day or night. And while we may make some attempt to move away from it, we often leave a forwarding address. Preparing a defense against such a powerful giant is not like crawling into your sleeping bag and zipping yourself up inside. There is no cocoon that can fend off this giant. We must find a way to live in a tempting world and have victory over this giant, not simply avoid him.

While no one should feel guilty for being tempted, all should understand that you will be tempted. It is a fact of life. Your pastor is tempted, your parents are tempted, your Bible study teacher is tempted, and your spouse is tempted—in fact, Jesus himself was tempted.

Temptation is the continual fork in the road. It is the decision to choose one of two ways. And, while we would prefer no “fork” or choice in the road that leads to destruction, it exists as a part of life.

So, where do we begin? We must understand the enemy.

Our enemy is subtle. We need to be wise enough ourselves to know that Satan knows all the tricks and will kick us when we’re down.

Our enemy is content to operate slowly. His goal is success, not speed. At times in our Christian life, we become lazy in our spiritual defenses. We know of our success and of our ability to stand. This is the point at which the enemy pounces.

Our enemy is calculating with proportions. The giant of temptation appears as no giant at all. He often presents himself in small doses. He spoon feeds us just a little bit of temptation, lest we spew it completely out of our mouths. His plan is for us to “nibble, nibble, nibble.” Just a little bit at a time.

Our enemy is crafty with his packaging. The giant of temptation is not bound by any “truth in advertising” law. He wraps his packages with the most beautiful wrappings and the most attractive bows. The giant of temptation wraps his packages with enticement. The word enticed means “to catch with bait.”

THE FIRST ADAM AND THE SECOND ADAM:

In the Second Reading of today from his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul, taking into consideration the above two events, compares them and goes on to say that Jesus is the Second Adam. His main interest is not to talk about sin or death, but rather to draw a contrasting picture of Adam and Christ, prominent figures of the beginning and the end time respectively. He uses what theologians call ‘typology’ to help us understand exactly what Jesus has done for us and how he established for us a new life, overcoming what Adam and Eve wrought for us. He sees Adam as a ‘type’ or ‘foreshadowing’ of Christ.

St. Paul begins by establishing a basic equivalence between Adam and Christ: both are the ‘first’or the ‘beginning’ of different eras. Adam stands at the beginning of the first creation; Christ is the beginning of a new creation. While typology usually stresses common elements, Paul stresses differences. Reading today’s passage from Romans carefully, we notice these contrasts between what Adam and Christ bring: Just as sin came into the world through Adam and with it death entered the world affecting all people, so also through Christ uprightness came into the world and with it life eternal. With the disobedience of the First Adam, death entered the human race, but we have received abundance of grace and new life through the Second Adam, Jesus Christ. He stresses that the free gift of the grace of God received through Jesus far surpassed the outcome of sin. Hence there is no comparison between the free gifts of the grace of God versus the consequence of one’s sin. While one’s trespass brought condemnation, the free gift of God brought justification.

Gospel: In the First and Second Temptations, the devil challenges Jesus, “If you are the Son of God…” Though the holy Spirit had revealed to Jesus that he was the Son of God, could it be that part of the devil’s temptation was to cause doubt about Jesus’ divinity? If this is true, then any doubt of who Jesus really was, might have caused Jesus to falter. The devil was hoping this would be the case.

But all of Jesus’ responses declare in faith, “It is written…” The final word that the devil cannot dispute: The Word of God.

Though there were many temptations throughout the 40 days and nights, the Gospels focus on these three. Jesus was tempted by these particular temptations because he struggled with the same struggles that we have: whether to live our life our way OR to live serving God wherever it will lead.

Jesus was tempted by the devil to abandon the hard difficult road ahead and take the shortcut to power, wealth and glory. The devil wanted to stop Jesus from fulfilling God’s plan and so he tempts Jesus with everything he’s got, tempting him from every angle.

You can’t tempt someone with “bread” who isn’t hungry. These particular temptations reveal what was at the heart of Jesus’ desires and fears after his time in the wilderness. The only way he could continue with his ministry would be to conquer these temptations and put God first. His temptations were opportunities to “back out” from doing God’s will and do what he wanted. These temptations were tied directly to his obedience to God. Jesus sought the will of the Father. That is his food. His heavenly appetite. He will not be driven by his fleshly wants, but will seek only to follow God in faith. He denies himself.

In the Second Temptation, the devil is tempting Jesus by telling him that God will protect him from injury or death if he is truly the Messiah, but underneath this harmless temptation is the real reason the devil wants to lead Jesus: to tempt him into self glory.

By jumping off the top of the Temple and floating down on the wings of angels, all the Jewish Temple worshipers would behold Jesus descending from heaven, as they would have expected the Messiah to arrive. It would have been an amazing spectacle. People would have immediately worshiped him as their King. His life from then on would have been of power, authority and glory. But isn’t that why Jesus came to earth, to lead his people? The Jews were seeking such a Messiah that would come to save them. A strong mighty leader who would descend from heaven and set up God’s Kingdom on earth. But that is not why Jesus came. He didn’t come for his own glory, but to be a humble servant to do the purpose of God. And that purpose, was to be a sacrifice for mankind. Again, he is taking a step back from his own will to instead do the will of God.

The devil disguises this true temptation for what it will lead to. But one sin leads to another and another. This is how an innocent sin leads to a greater evil. By asking Jesus merely to test if God will protect him, the devil is setting him up to prove who he was, offering quick adoration without the pain and suffering to come. A shortcut to glory.

But isn’t he quoting Psalm 91:11-12? Yes, even the devil quotes Scripture. But the devil twists the meaning of the Scripture (which he still does today) prodding Jesus to misuse the true intention of the Scripture. The Psalms speak of God’s protection to those who trust him, but the promise is not to be used as a way of testing God. It is much like some Christians today who quote Mark 16:17-18, intentionally handling poisonous snakes to test God and prove to themselves their spiritual ranking.

But Jesus understands that we are to serve God only. Not vice versa. It all goes back to the will of God. It is not about what we want, but what God wants. By having the ability to CONTROL God, one would have great POWER. But Jesus humbles himself and denounces Satan’s temptation.

In the same way, so many of us today want God to give us a sign, answer our prayers or ask God to prove himself by some miracle before we will have faith. Faith alone and the promise of God is not enough for us, so we test God.

But Jesus’ humbleness and faith wins out. He knows that God is indeed with him. Jesus again denies himself.

In the Third Temptation, the devil finally lays it all out to Jesus. This temptation was the biggest one of all. The offer…to be like God. He could have wealth, possession, glory and power, but the cost is an exchange. Instead of serving God, he would have to serve the devil.

Jesus rebukes his final offer, calling him out by name, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord God, and serve him only.’”

He gives up this greatest temptation: To have it all.

As Christians we all believe that we reject Satan, but how many of us work to get what Satan offers: money, recognition, authority, glory and possessions? Our lives are dedicated to serving ourselves rather than God. As Jesus would later say in his ministry, “You cannot serve both God and mammon” – Matthew 6:24. In order to succeed, many business people will do and say anything to advance to the top, trampling on many along the way. They also sacrifice so many important things like family or friends, honesty, morality or integrity because their business comes first. It is their god. As Jesus says in Matthew 16:26 “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”

Each of the temptations of Christ are the same temptations we all face daily:

1. Seeking to satisfy ourself instead of God.

2. Manipulating God to attain our goals of power and glory.

3. To BE as God. To have it all.

By denying these three temptations, Jesus denies this earthly life. His food is to serve God, not himself. And that was Jesus’ great struggle: to live his life for God instead of himself.

Passing these three temptations, Jesus has surrendered himself for God’s use. He was now prepared for the great work of God to come. By denying Satan, he was ready to follow God in total obedience, resulting in the greatest gift to the world: salvation and reconciliation of humankind to God. He died so we could return to fellowship with the Father.

That is why the angels ministered to him when the temptations were over. Rejecting these temptations was the final obstacle for Jesus. He denied himself for our sake. He could have had a king’s life of earthly satisfaction, power and wealth, but instead his short life on earth was for the purpose of saving us.

His temptations lasted up until the end, even in his final hour at the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus struggled with his temptations to escape from God’s will. His emotions are real. His fear is real.

A self-confident person faces difficulties smilingly and with courage. He never feels helpless and weak. He keeps acting the right way to win his goal. Nothing can push him backwards as long as he continues to believe in himself and his strength.

Faith in God is the best weapon to fight any temptation. As soon as a person starts acting with true ‘ faith in God’ no evil idea can distract him. He keeps on the right path. Faith in God is very important and necessary for our life. Since God has given us everything, we should turn to him in our moments of weakness. We should pray and place our faith in God in our troubles and difficulties. This enables a person to remain cheerful and calm even when things go wrong in life. God guides us through our conscience. If you obey the voice of your conscience, you’ll never fall prey to any temptation. No evil will weaken your hold on yourself. You’ll keep off any forbidden activity howsoever attractive the reward may be. Thus, it is very important to have strong willpower, self–confidence and faith in God to overcome temptations in life. You’ll feel as strong as a rock against the strong winds of temptations.

Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.

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